Using Authentic Assessment
Using Authentic Assessment
Quizzes and tests certainly have a role in education for assessing how well students have picked up factual information, concepts, and discrete skills. Because assessment is a feedback mechanism, however, assessments must reflect what teachers want students to know and be able to do. If scientific inquiry is important, then a student's ability to do scientific inquiry should be assessed in a way that enables them to show what they have learned. One way is through authentic assessment.
For the purpose of this guide, the term authentic assessment refers to assessment by performance, task, product, or project. Authentic assessment asks students to apply what they have learned in such a way that it provides evidence of in-depth understanding, rather than of superficial or naive understanding (Wiggins and McTighe, see Resources). In authentic assessment, teachers ask students to provide evidence that they have "gotten it" by actually doing something real. Often, such assessments include an authentic audience—real stakeholders to whom the students present information or with whom they otherwise engage.
As students construct meaning from their inquiries, not all students, no matter how hard teachers work with them, will arrive at the proper scientific conceptions. The fact that some students have failed to grasp the principles of scientific inquiry is often hidden when conventional, multiple-choice tests are used. What this means for assessment and evaluation is that assessment must be process-oriented. In assessing, teachers may want to consider questions such as the following:
- What are the contributions of the students?
- Are the claims viable in terms of the data collected (including claims made by students who enter and pursue blind alleys in their research)?
- How creative are the research questions?
- Are the findings consistent with currently held views?
- What skills did the students use, and how well were they used in the process of finding answers to questions?
The design and content of an authentic assessment may depend upon how the students' project has evolved. But in any case, if scientific inquiry is an important factor in the project, the assessment should compel students to show clear evidence of understanding the "big picture" of scientific inquiry (from organizing and supporting questions, through research and data collection, to hypothesis testing and action).
Once the "big picture" or central learning of a unit has been identified, criteria for judging student learning should be developed. Checklists are a useful way of displaying criteria. Teachers can assign points to a checklist against a standard, although assigning points is not necessarily straightforward. Students should have access to the checklists as they perform. These tools can also make a judgment about the quality of their work, and this can be used as the basis for a discussion with them about their progress throughout the project.
Teacher Planning Activities
Developing Authentic Assessment:
How can a student's ability to do scientific inquiry be assessed? One approach would be to challenge the students to apply their newly gained skill to a case study or simulation. Portfolios are another proven authentic assessment tool.
Bringing in outside experts or engaged community members as an audience for a presentation or demonstration can help reinforce for students the real-world importance of their newly acquired skills.
To explore the possibilities for authentic assessment, see the following:
- "Assessment and Evaluation." MiddleWeb.
- "The Case for Authentic Assessment," by Grant Wiggins (ERIC Digest # ED328611)
Continuing the KWL Chart: